SALT LAKE CITY, UT (BRAIN)—It was more than the beach-happy SUP vibe that put a smile on attendees’ faces at Summer Market. Numbers were up by double digits in all categories at the show and sales on the floor were surprisingly strong.
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This year’s Summer Market didn’t break the attendance record of the 2008 show, when the Energy Solutions Arena became an overflow exhibition space. Compared with last year’s show, however, the amount of square footage occupied by exhibitors rose by about 5 percent, show officials said.
A total of 980 exhibitors plied their wares at this show. And while final numbers won’t be available until the show ends this afternoon, Outdoor Retailer counted more attendees, buyers and stores doing business in the halls of the Salt Palace than during last summer, show director Kenji Haroutunian said.
That made for the first real optimism the industry has felt since the recession began.
“I think the optimism is real,” Haroutunian said. “The numbers coming out of OIA research for quarter one 2010 show a resurgence and an interest in outdoor products, and that resurgence is making a lot of brands interested in playing in this market. There’s also a renewed desire for retailers to participate in the show.”
Many feared that the resurgence in the market was deceptive, due primarily to retailers restocking inventory that had run too low due to recession angst. But manufacturers say the sales they are seeing indicates more than restocking.
“My concern was that we were going to get this fabricated lift because of low inventory levels. So we thought it would look like a fantastic year for Q1 and then fall away. But we are seeing dealers loading up and selling through. ASAP orders and fill orders are coming through,” said Mike Steck, customer marketing and sustainability director at Yakima.
“We are not nearly out of the woods yet,” said Chris Grover, head of sales for Black Diamond. “But I would say there is an air of cautious optimism.”
Small, new, innovative brands—ever the engine that drives the industry from below—reported success as well. Small new brands debuted innovative products at the show that did everything from protecting iPads from water to keeping thieves out of backpacks—and they got the attention of buyers.
“I have had suppliers coming to the booth—suppliers I would have a hard time contacting on my own—coming up to the booth to find me,” said Maloc Design founder Tamara Kryklywicz, who debuted her thief-proof zipper and pack at the show. She said brands approached her, wanting to license her design, during the first two days of the show.
The show will only continue to evolve so that it becomes more digital, includes categories beyond the traditional “outdoor” brands and boosts partnerships between manufacturers, suppliers and designers, Haroutunian said.
“We will continue to see more and more interest from running shoe brands at the show. We will enable more elements for designers. You will see a lot of new initiatives on the technological front end and highly focused on serving the market face-to-face,” Haroutunian said.